Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Deadline Day

So I was losing my mind yesterday — don't worry, it happens often, it always comes back, it knows where I live because, well, it's my mind — while working from home.

I was on deadline, virtuously tapping away, when I heard a Boeing 747 land on my street. Well, it sounded like one anyway, and when I opened my living room blinds for the first time that morning (it was 11 a.m.), I saw a guy with a jet engine strapped to his back, harnessing its awesome power to blow six leaves off the sidewalk.

Frankly, I considered that a bit of overkill, like someone noticing a spider on the wall and immediately digging in the closet for their Uzi. I mean, the guy could have cleared those leaves just as quickly with a rake or even a fork. Hell, he could have gotten faster results with a set of chopsticks. If he missed the noise, he could make little leaf-blowing sounds as he used the chopsticks, sort of a "vroom vroom (click click) vroom vroom ..."

That would have been a lot better, but no, I was trapped here with the leaf-blower guy outside. I've been working from home for a few months now, and I'm terribly productive. I've advanced to the Alaskan nuclear weapons facility in Metal Gear Solid 4 and built a medieval village out of Legos. Oh yes, and I've written some articles and worked on my own writing project.

Now usually jet engine leaf-blowers don't threaten to make me lose my mind, but it was Deadline Day. When I accept writing assignments, the deadline days are in the distant, misty future and I"m all "Of course I can write all these articles. I can't wait to call Oakland brokers and Bay Area CEOs and some guy named Senate who runs a hacker space." I'm always very excited to accept an assignment and immediately start drawing up long source lists and mentally spending my freelance fee.

Then suddenly I turn a planner page and there's Deadline Day, one week away, prompting me to spend a day frantically working the phone and email screen. Of course, what happens when you call or email people — and I can't be the first to have noticed this — is that some will actually respond, and you find yourself fielding all these calls and emails and trying to remember what you wanted in the first place.

But even worse is facing Deadline Day with a headache and a bunch of stories with more holes than Swiss cheese. Then I wish I was writing fiction again, because it's not like I woke up one morning halfway through a novel thinking "I want to write my chapter today about the playboy governor of Pluto who makes porn films on the side but he won't call me back!"

Plus, looking over what I'd written so far, all I see are the holes and the lead with the subtle Dickens reference that sounded so cute a month ago reads kind of stupid now.

Speaking of literary references, I actually did put a John Donne quote in a story lead once. Actually, it wasn't a story lead, it was an editor's letter for the "Bay Area's Most Awesome Philanthropists with Money to Buy an Ad" publication. Since I was the editor, I had to write the damn letter and out of desperation I used Donne's "no man is an island" quote as a starting point. My boss liked it, anyway, which was good enough because nobody else reads an editor's letter.

So there I was on Friday, coping with Deadline Day, putting the finishing touches on my three articles. Well, "finishing touches" might be exaggerating a bit; "fact-checking every picky thing" might be more accurate in the case of two articles and "writing the damn thing from scratch" well describes the third.

Friday was also Deadline Day for my son Benny, who typed up a four-paragraph report on black holes last week with the help of a library book and the Hubble space website. I'm trying not to pass on my own angst and procrastination and bad habits concerning Deadline Day to Benny. He is more responsible than I, although neither of us can write a word without a dose of chocolate. I don't want him to dread Deadline Days, because every day has some sort of deadline and if you freak out over all of them, you'll never do anything. So I try to keep a brave front regarding my deadlines and glue back all the hair I'd pulled out that day in frustration and keep my revenge fantasies regarding leaf-blower operators to myself.

And I stay away from Benny's Halloween candy for most of the day because he'll know if I swipe a piece (yes, he counts them), then finally break down and eat a mini Milky Way Dark.

It wasn't my fault.

It was Deadline Day.